With the San Fransisco Giants down one reliever with Hunter Strickland serving a six-game suspension for a beanball and subsequent fight with Bryce Harper, coupled with Derek Law's recent struggles, long-time prospect Kyle Crick was promoted from Class-AAA Sacramento on Monday.
A 1st-round pick by the San Francisco Giants in 2011 out of Sherman High School in Texas, Crick began his pro career with the rookie-league Giants in the Arizona League, making only seven appearances after his signing. In the spring of 2011, Crick was clocked as high as 97 MPH, and so the Giants went the starter route with the young righty throughout his next three seasons.
Crick consistently registered very low ERAs and hits allowed totals, but always struggled with his control. From 2011-2014, his season walk totals were never lower than 5.1 per 9 innings. However, his K/9 totals were 10 or higher every year; in 2013, a 20-year old Crick struck out an amazing 12.45/9 in 14 starts (95 K in 68 2/3 IP) with Class-A+ San Jose in the California League.
Crick was only 21 years old when he reached Class-AA in 2014 and he became a fixture with the Richmond Flying Squirrels in the Eastern League. As he powered his way through Spring Training, MLB.com had him ranked 32nd on their Top 100 Prospects list.
By this time, Crick was learning to be more relaxed on the mound, and consequently putting less pressure on himself. Director of Player Personnel and former ML pitcher Dick Tidrow worked with Crick to help keep him from finishing high in the zone; it turned out that his stride to the plate was getting too long, causing him a bit of arm drag and changing his release point. He was able to sharpen his fastball command and improve his feel for an fast-improving change-up, working with Tidrow and veteran catcher Buster Posey.
Crick remained in the rotation in 2016, his third season with the Flying Squirrels, recording a horrible 4-11 record and a bloated 5.04 ERA over 23 starts. Promoted to Class-AAA Sacramento for 2017, now as a short reliever, Crick put up his best totals in four years (2.76 ERA, 39 K in 29 1/3 IP, 13 BB) while surrendering only one home run. Crick actually never struggled with the long ball; in his 478 1/3 innings in the minor leagues, Crick has given up a paltry 20 homers.
Meanwhile, Derek Law's numbers have taken a turn for the worse after an April month that saw him register a 2.92 ERA over 12 appearances, then a 3.27 ERA in May, followed by three weeks in June that obliterated his season totals (10 ER, 3 HRA, 15 H, 10 ER in 6 2/3 IP). Concerning is his 3-4 MPH drop on his change, slider and curve. While his average fastball velocity is actually steady since last Summer, he went through a similar loss in both speed and movement on his off-speed pitches in 2016.
Crick doesn't need a suspension/demotion roster hit in order to justify a call-up. Sitting mid-90's on his four-seamer, he leans on his fastball/slider combo, with the pairing accounting for nearly 95% of his pitches. Crick sat in the mid-80's with his slider four years ago, and a move to the pen might bring some of that lost velo back. There is little separation between his fastball and change-up (88-89), though his feel for the pitch might eventually lead to its becoming a dependable third option.
Thus far in 2017, opposing batters found Crick more difficult to pull this year with the River Cats (31% pull% vs. 39.8% in 2016), which likely has as much to do with location of his fastball as it would with his velocity. At 6'4”, 220, Crick generates good leverage when he locates low in the zone. Batters recorded a paltry .218 BA against Crick in Sacramento, while 31.5% of them went down on strikes.
At this stage in his development, it's unlikely that Crick with have an epiphany on the mound and cut his walks in half. Still, assuming the loss in velocity on his slider is temporary, Crick could become a solid short reliever for the Giants in the short term.
With even slight improvement in his command, he may even become a dependable 8th-inning option. However they intend to use him, assuming he remains in the 'pen, Crick is ready to contribute at the big-league level. After losing 16 of their last 20 games, the Giants need all the help they can get.